Will maritime-border settlement imply Lebanon’s indirect recognition of Israel?

Analysis Will maritime-border settlement imply Lebanon’s indirect recognition of Israel?
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A poster of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is seen at the ruins of the former Israeli-run prison of Khiam (Khiyam) on the Lebanese-Israeli border on May 25, 2022. (AFP)
Analysis Will maritime-border settlement imply Lebanon’s indirect recognition of Israel?
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Hezbollah has threatened to attack Israel if a deal acceptable to Lebanon was not reached by a clear deadline. (AFP)
Analysis Will maritime-border settlement imply Lebanon’s indirect recognition of Israel?
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Hezbollah has threatened to attack Israel if a deal acceptable to Lebanon was not reached by a clear deadline. (AFP)
Analysis Will maritime-border settlement imply Lebanon’s indirect recognition of Israel?
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Hezbollah has threatened to attack Israel if a deal acceptable to Lebanon was not reached by a clear deadline. (AFP)
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Updated 06 September 2022

Will maritime-border settlement imply Lebanon’s indirect recognition of Israel?

Will maritime-border settlement imply Lebanon’s indirect recognition of Israel?
  • Hezbollah complicit in US-brokered process despite its leader’s rejection of talks with the ‘Zionist enemy’
  • Gap between Nasrallah’s rhetoric and reality calls into question his much vaunted commitment to “resistance”

DUBAI: Comments recently made by a White House official to Al-Arabiya point to progress in indirect negotiations between Lebanon and Israel to find a solution to their maritime boundary dispute. But any progress raises a host of questions that Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia which holds sway over the Lebanese government, will find deeply embarrassing.

Technically at war since 1948 and with no diplomatic relations, Lebanon and Israel are at odds over an area of 860 sq km of the Mediterranean Sea believed to contain rich deposits of natural gas. They have been engaged in intermittent negotiations since October 2020 over the gas-rich waters they both claim to lie in their exclusive economic zones.

US President Joe Biden’s administration has proposed a compromise solution, which would create an S-shaped maritime economic boundary between the two countries. Amos Hochstein, the US senior adviser for energy security, told Al-Hurra TV in June that a proposal Lebanese officials presented to him will enable negotiations “to go forward.”

In recent months, Hochstein, in his capacity as the special presidential coordinator on the border deal, has made multiple trips to Beirut and Tel Aviv.

“We continue to narrow the gaps between the parties and believe a lasting compromise is possible,” the unnamed White House official told Al-Arabiya this week. The official praised what he called the “consultative spirit” of both parties.

The optimistic assessment came against a backdrop of seemingly coordinated anti-Israel posturing by Lebanese government officials and their coalition ally, Hezbollah. Michel Aoun, the Lebanese president, and his Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) have maintained a strategic alliance with Hezbollah since 2006 that has enabled them to fill public and administrative institutions with loyalists.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun (R) meeting with US special envoy Amos Hochstein (C) and US Ambassador Dorothy Shea in Baabda, east of Beirut, on June 14, 2022. (DALATI AND NOHRA photo via AFP)

The understanding between the leading Lebanese Christian and Shiite parties has been tested at times by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah’s warlike rhetoric and broadsides against Lebanon’s traditional Arab allies. But with the ongoing negotiations with Israel, Hezbollah’s much vaunted commitment to “resistance,” its political strength and even its relevance have been called into question.

“Hezbollah accuses all its opponents of being Zionist and imperialist agents. So, any occasion to prove it wrong is welcome,” Nadim Shehadi, a Lebanese economist and political commentator, told Arab News. “That said, this is one of the rare instances where the presence of Hezbollah possibly strengthens the Lebanese negotiation position.”



Hezbollah has threatened to attack Israel if a deal acceptable to Lebanon is not reached by a clear deadline. In early July, it dispatched drones twice toward the Karish gas field — where Israel has a drilling site — three of which were shot down by the Israeli military.

Although the drones were unarmed, they demonstrated Hezbollah’s ability to strike the offshore facility and up the ante in the US-mediated negotiations with Israel. In recent months, Israel has also repeatedly accused Hezbollah of impeding UN peacekeepers stationed along the Lebanon-Israel border from performing their duties.

UNIFIL and Lebanese military vehicles on guard at the demarcation of the maritime frontier between the Israel and Lebanon, in the southern Lebanese border town of Naqura. (AFP file photo)

Still, Hezbollah is said to privately want to avoid another conflict at a time Lebanon is going through a crippling economic crisis that has plunged more than three-quarters of its population into poverty. The last war it fought with Israel, 16 years ago, left nearly 1,200 Lebanese — mostly civilians — dead, pushing large swathes of the country into ruins.

“To be sure, Hezbollah can obstruct the negotiations any time and they hold the process hostage,” Shehadi told Arab News. “The theatrics of sending drones to take photos of the Israeli gas installations were in keeping with its approach.”

The Lebanese government officials whose histrionics too made headlines recently were Walid Fayyad, the energy minister, and Hector Hajjar, the social affairs minister, with their act of throwing rocks toward Israeli territory.

The duo, both linked to Aoun’s FPM, were part of a group of eight Lebanese ministers who were on a border-area tour. In the video, which went viral after it was broadcast by Al-Jadeed TV, Fayyad and Hajjar could be heard teasing each other about their rock-throwing abilities.

Lebanon's Minister for Social Affairs Hector Hajjar (R) throws a stone while Energy Minister Walid Fayyad (L) watches during a visit to the southern border with Israel on August 30, 2022. (AFP)

Fayyad, who in the clip tells Hajjar to “step aside, so I won’t hit your head,” is a frequent interlocutor for the Lebanese government during the discussions with Hochstein on the boundary dispute with Israel. Michael Young, a senior editor with Carnegie Middle East in Beirut, surmises that the two ministers’ actions may have something to do with the upcoming presidential election to find a successor to Aoun.

“I am not sure if it was planned that way, but the effect was showing that they stood with the ‘resistance against Israel,’” he told Arab News.

Shehadi concurred, saying that “everyone is playing along, including the cabinet ministers”, adding: “The new independent MPs who visited the border danced the (Levantine folk dance) dabke there. It’s all part of a subtle internal Lebanese political dialogue.”

To Shehadi, the scenes on the border were reminiscent of the period immediately after the Israeli withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000, when Lebanese politicians joined in the theatrics of the “liberation by the resistance.”

Lebanese high school students dance at Fatima Gate in Lebanon's southern border town of Kfar Kila on June 2, 2000 to celebrate the Israeli army pullout. (AFP)

“The circumstances of the withdrawal were well known. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had promised in July 1999 to withdraw to the international border and it was a fulfillment of that pledge,” Shehadi told Arab News. “The withdrawal was coordinated between Israel and Hezbollah with the help of two Swedish mediators.”

This time around, Lebanese analysts are watching closely for any political fallout of the obvious gap between the rhetoric and actions of Nasrallah in the context of the Lebanon-Israel negotiations.

Since the Islamic revolution of 1979, the regime in Tehran and its Shiite proxies have relied on a formula of seeking to co-opt the Palestinian resistance to increase their moral standing in the Arab world. They have intervened in neighboring countries, and justified this as necessary to liberate Palestine with such cross-sectarian slogans as “The path to Jerusalem passes through Karbala.”

As part of the same playbook, Hezbollah has constantly tried to portray itself as a pan-Islamic force fighting, first and foremost, for the Palestinian cause, determined to liberate Jerusalem from “Zionist occupation” while accusing Arabs of abandoning the holy city.

Hezbollah (yellow) and Amal (green) supporters demonstrate near the Israeli-Lebanese border, with graffiti depicting Iran's slain "Quds Force" commander Qasem Soleimani in Lebanon's southern town of Kfar Kila on May 25, 2022. (AFP)

In a speech in Beirut’s suburbs in 1998, Nasrallah reportedly called for the assassination of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for signing peace treaties with Israel by invoking the example of the killer of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. “Is there no Palestinian who can do what Khaled Islambouli did and say that Arafat’s presence on the face of this Earth is shameful to Palestinians and Muslims?” Nasrallah had thundered.

As recently as in August 2020, he was fulminating against the signing of the normalization agreement between Israel and the UAE. “This is a betrayal of Islam and Arabism, it is a betrayal of Jerusalem, of the Palestinian people,” he said during a speech commemorating the anniversary of the end of Hezbollah’s 2006 conflict between Israel.

Fast forward to September 2022 and, as Michael Young, the Carnegie Middle East editor, puts it, “Hezbollah today is engaged in indirection negotiations with Israel.”

Supporters of Lebanon's Iran-backed Shiite group Hezbollah attend a rally to listen to the speech off Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in the southern city of Nabatiyeh on May 9, 2022. (AFP)

“To an extent, Hassan Nasrallah’s upping the ante is to show that they are not negotiating indirectly with Israel, signing what may be a deal on offshore gas sharing. But no one doubts that they are negotiating indirectly with Israel,” he told Arab News.

“At the same time, Hezbollah needs to show its domestic supporters that it’s still anti-Israel, hence the escalation of threats and criticism of Israel if Lebanon’s gas rights are not respected.”

But if a deal materializes, sooner or later, will Hezbollah tie its own hands by neutralizing the “resistance” and saying that Israel has respected all its commitments to Lebanon? “Hezbollah’s view is much wider than that,” Young said. “As long as there’s an enemy, the resistance must continue. This is not the official view of the Lebanese government but it is implied in all Hezbollah statements.”

Israeli navy vessels patrol along the coast of Rosh Hanikra, an area at the border between Israel and Lebanon (Ras al-Naqura), on June 6, 2022. AFP)

Young believes that at this stage, Hezbollah does not want to negotiate the entire sea and land border. “The focus now is on the maritime border. I don’t believe there’s willingness to negotiate anything dealing with the contested border, the Shebaa Farms,” he told Arab News, referring to a small strip of land occupied by Israel since 1967.

“(But) the UN says the occupation ended with the Israelis’ withdrawal in 2000. The Lebanese position on Shebaa Farms is not the same as that of the Israelis or the UN.”

As for the negotiations over the maritime dispute, Young says if media reports are any guide, the Biden administration has been putting pressure on both Lebanon and Israel and there are signs of progress.

“I don’t think we can rule out an agreement,” he told Arab News. “I think all sides have an interest in one and we are moving to a potential agreement.”

According to the White House official who spoke to Al-Arabiya, Hochstein is in communication daily with both Israeli and Lebanese government officials.


Lebanon’s Grand Mufti appeals for unity in meeting with Sunni MPs ahead of presidential election

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti appeals for unity in meeting with Sunni MPs ahead of presidential election
Updated 25 September 2022

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti appeals for unity in meeting with Sunni MPs ahead of presidential election

Lebanon’s Grand Mufti appeals for unity in meeting with Sunni MPs ahead of presidential election
  • Derian: ‘We hope for government within days’

BEIRUT:  Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdel Latif Derian warned on Saturday that Lebanon has become a failed state.

“We are rapidly moving toward no state at all, and the Arabs and the world will soon start ignoring Lebanon’s existence because of political mismanagement at all levels,” he said.

“We need to elect a new president and the MPs are responsible for electing him or creating a presidential vacuum.”

Derian had invited Sunni MPs for a meeting at Dar Al-Fatwa to discuss possible candidates.

All but three of 27 Sunni MPs from different political currents attended the meeting, including one MP affiliated with Hezbollah, in addition to reformist and independent MPs.

Two reformist MPs, Ibrahim Mneimneh and Halima Al-Qaaqour, and independent MP Osama Saad did not attend.

A source in Dar Al-Fatwa said that the meeting was aimed at uniting the Sunni bloc in parliament to allow it to have a meaningful say in the presidential elections.

The bloc also aims stop any attempts to tamper with the Taif Agreement and undermine its provisions regarding Lebanon’s constitution, the source said.

The meeting focused on efforts to preserve national unity, and respect constitutional deadlines on the election of a new president and the formation of a government capable of implementing financial, monetary and legislative reforms, including an economic recovery plan.

During the meeting, Derian said that the survival of nations and states depends on the effectiveness of their constitutional institutions.

The president is the protector of the constitution, and the Christian president in Lebanon is a symbol of coexistence on which the Lebanese system is based, he said.

Arabs “recognize and appreciate the Lebanese experience” because the Lebanese president is the only Christian president in the Arab world, Derian added.

He urged MPs to encourage respect for the president’s position, and help him assume his role at home and abroad.

Derian also said the new president must preserve the principles of the Taif Agreement, the constitution, coexistence, and Lebanon’s national, Arab and international legitimacy.

If these matters are neglected, Lebanon will be unable to maintain order, stability and its national entity, he added.

Derian highlighted the need to put an end to made-up sectarian, divisive clashes over powers and return to the constitutional principle of separating powers but maintaining cooperation between them.

He called for the election of a president characterized by the personal and political qualities of a public businessman who would be ethically responsible for the mission with which he is tasked.

The new president must have wisdom, national responsibility and integrity, as well as the ability to be inclusive of all Lebanese, and to use his powers to help the country out of this crisis and prevent it from reaching total collapse, he said.

Derian reiterated: “Either we elect a president with these qualities, or we see the regime and the state fall before our eyes.”

He also appealed for respect for the prime minister and help for the PM-designate with his mission.

“This is a joint responsibility that rests with everyone. We are looking forward to forming a government as soon as possible, perhaps in the next few days,” said Derain, adding that Lebanon needed a government with full powers  — and not a caretaker government —   in these harsh and difficult circumstances.

Derian said Lebanon can survive only if consensus is reached. There is no salvation without unity, away from tension, sectarian strife and incitement, he added.

Lebanon needed a president “who is not part of the problem or the cause of it.”

In a statement issued after the meeting, those present stressed the principles advocated by Dar Al-Fatwa, especially in terms of committing to the Taif Agreement, Lebanon’s Arab identity and national unity.

They also condemned the abuses that had harmed and were still harming the foundations of national reconciliation and coexistence.

The Sunni MPs stressed the need to end Lebanon’s suffering under mismanagement and rampant corruption.

“Saving Lebanon requires recognizing the mistakes that were made, holding the perpetrators accountable, whoever they are, and sincerely cooperating with the different Lebanese and Arab parties and the international community to restore Lebanon’s identity and stature,” they said.

The Sunni MPs said that they will work with fellow MPs to elect a new president on the specified constitutional date.

They said that the new president “needs to abide by the constitution and be loyal to the people of Lebanon and their interests.”

The statement added that Lebanon’s enemy was and still is the Israeli army, which continued to occupy parts of the Lebanese territories.

It called for the implementation of UN Security Council resolutions that stipulate the Israeli withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and the recognition of Jerusalem as an occupied city.

Lebanon’s banks to reopen on Monday

Lebanon’s banks to reopen on Monday
Updated 25 September 2022

Lebanon’s banks to reopen on Monday

Lebanon’s banks to reopen on Monday
  • Each bank would determine its own channels for banking operations with commercial and educational institutions

BEIRUT:  Lebanon’s banks will reopen on Monday, the banking association said, after five days of closure following a wave of holdups in the country by depositors seeking access to their frozen savings.
The association said in a statement on Sunday that the decision to reopen “was taken after consideration of the current difficult security conditions and the need to maintain the safety of customers and employees alike, in the absence of adequate protection by the state.”
It added each bank would determine its own channels for banking operations with commercial and educational institutions, and the health care sector among others.
A top Lebanese banker on Friday criticized politicians for failing to enact a capital control law, saying this was the way to avoid bank raids by savers demanding funds from frozen accounts and to stop banks’ “discretionary practices.”
The holdups reflect savers’ desperation three years after Lebanon’s financial system collapsed due to decades of state corruption and waste, and unsustainable financial policies.
The government has agreed neither a financial recovery plan nor enacted reforms deemed vital to get Lebanon out of the crisis. While the government says it is committed to reforms, the International Monetary Fund says progress remains very slow.

At UNGA, UAE minister demands return of 3 islands seized by Iran

At UNGA, UAE minister demands return of 3 islands seized by Iran
Updated 25 September 2022

At UNGA, UAE minister demands return of 3 islands seized by Iran

At UNGA, UAE minister demands return of 3 islands seized by Iran

NEW YORK: The United Arab Emirates on Saturday urged Iran to return to the Gulf state the three islands it had been illegally occupying for the past five decades.

In an address before the General Debate of the 77th United Nations General Assembly in New York City, Reem Al Hashimy, UAE's Minister of State for International Cooperation, said Iran's occupation of the three islands was a violation of the sovereignty.

"... we renew our demand for an end to Iran's occupation of the three UAE islands: Greater Tunb, Lesser Tunb, and Abu Musa – the UAE’s sovereignty over which is proven by history and international law," Hashimy said.

Iran seized the three islands in November 1971 shortly after British forces were pulled out. The islands are all located in the Strait of Hormuz between the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

"Despite the UAE’s sincere calls to peacefully resolve this conflict over the past five decades, we stress here that Iran has not responded. We will never relent in voicing our claim to these islands either through direct negotiations or through the International Court of Justice, as is our legitimate right," Hashimy said.

Iran has been accused by its Arab neighbors and members and the West of seeking to destabilize the region by funding and arming its proxy militias, including the Hezbollah of Lebanon, the Houthis of Yemen, and other militants in the Palestinian territories and in Iraq.

On Sunday, the UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan met with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

During the meeting, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed called for strengthening international cooperation to achieve stability and peace in the region and achieve the aspirations of people, according to a statement on the Emirates News Agency (WAM).

Both officials discussed bilateral relations and ways to enhance cooperation between the two countries to achieve their common interests. They also exchanged views on regional and international developments and reviewed several issues on the agenda of the General Assembly.



Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank

Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank
Updated 25 September 2022

Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank

Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank

NABLUS: Israeli troops killed a Palestinian militant in the occupied West Bank on Sunday, Palestinian sources said, with Israel’s army saying soldiers fired on “armed suspects” during a routine patrol.
The army said that “hits were identified” after soldiers fired toward “armed suspects driving in a vehicle and a motorcycle” near Nablus in the northern West Bank, an area that has seen near daily violence in recent months.
The Palestinian health ministry named the man killed as Saed Al-Koni.
A loose coalition of fighters called “The Lions Den” that has recently emerged in Nablus claimed Koni as one of their members.
Among the members of this group was teenager Ibrahim Al-Nabulsi, who has become a folk hero on social media since his killing by Israeli forces in August. Pendants of Al-Nabulsi are on sale in the markets of Nablus Old City.
Koni’s death was the second in the Nablus area in the past two days.
On Saturday, a Palestinian driver was killed by Israeli troops after what the army called an “attempted ramming attack,” but which Palestinians said was a traffic accident.
The army said soldiers and police opened fire on a vehicle after the driver “attempted to run them over” during a patrol outside Nablus.
The Palestinian foreign ministry described Muhammad Ali Hussein Awad, 36, as a “defenseless Palestinian” who was not “posing any danger.”
“The Israeli police deliberately shot Awad, with the aim of killing him, after his vehicle collided with a police vehicle in a traffic accident,” the ministry said.
Israel has occupied the West Bank since the Six Day War of 1967.
Israeli forces have faced criticism over their frequent use of lethal force in response to perceived threats.
Israel is on high alert ahead of the Jewish high holiday season which begins on Sunday evening with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
Since March, Israel has launched hundreds of raids in the northern West Bank, including Nablus and nearby Jenin, in pursuit of individuals it accuses of involvement in deadly attacks targeting Israelis.
The raids have sparked clashes that have killed dozens of Palestinians.

President Alimi, UN Secretary General discuss peace efforts in Yemen

President Alimi, UN Secretary General discuss peace efforts in Yemen
Updated 25 September 2022

President Alimi, UN Secretary General discuss peace efforts in Yemen

President Alimi, UN Secretary General discuss peace efforts in Yemen

Dubai: Head of the Presidential Leadership Council in Yemen, Rashad al-Alimi, discussed on Saturday peace efforts with Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly's meetings.
Alimi welcomed the role of the UN and its secretary general’s efforts to stop the war in Yemen and to alleviate the severity of Yemen's crisis, state news agency SABA reported.
Alimi discussed the latest developments in Yemen, economic, service and right reforms adopted by the Presidential Council and the government..
The secretary general confirmed the commitment of the UN in supporting the presidential council and the government and mobilizing necessary resources to alleviate humanitarian suffering.
He also confirmed employing all efforts to tighten the truce and renewing it, resuming the political process and enabling Yemeni people to build their state.